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Would-be Spectacular : Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Friends In Gallic Gala

July 10, 1986|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music/Dance Critic

NEW YORK — The top ticket included a post-performance din-din with and for royalty, diplomats and politicos, not to mention stars of stage, screen, terpsichore and the society pages. It cost $1,000.

Mere mortals on a tight budget could get an orchestra seat for only $250, if they were lucky. For them, of course, it was dance, yes; din-din, no.

Toute New York braved the swelter Tuesday night to watch France continue its quasi-official salute to the good old U.S. of A. The Metropolitan Opera House, its ornate lobby festooned with balloons, was packed. Fun City celebrity-gawkers still mobbed the Lincoln Center plaza long after the long, long evening mercifully drew to a close.

There seemed, in advance at least, to be good reason for all the brouhaha. The Paris Opera Ballet, headed by an ex-Kirov danseur named Rudolf Nureyev, was sharing the stage for some art, nonsense and fund-raising with American Ballet Theatre, headed by an ex-Kirov danseur named Mikhail Baryshnikov.

The very idea quickened many a throbbing pulse. Rudi and Misha together on the same stage. It had to be the most momentous union since Garson got Gable.

But, if one could believe the advance notices, this would be more than just an extended pas de deux for defected divos. This also would be a night of wild surprises and derring-do, a mind-boggling orgy of dancerly jeu d'esprit .

Despite some beguiling moments, alas, it turned out to be little of the kind. Anyone who sneezed might have missed the collaboration of the defected duo. The surprises weren't wild at all, and the derring didn't.

The communal esprit soared about as high as the aging Nureyev jumped.

At the very end, we are told, everyone returned to the stage for a valedictory cancan. After 3 1/2 hours of grim-and-bear-it jubilation, at least one observer couldn't-couldn't.

Enough obfuscation. The report.

The festivities opened with the French and American national anthems. Because of the indisposition of Regine Crespin, Martina Arroyo sang both. The French soprano's withdrawal also forced the unlamented cancellation of Rossini's catty duetto buffo.

The first, overgenerous, balletic offering introduced the visiting Parisians in a "Raymonda" hodgepodge concocted by the resident beefcake-Tartar idol "after Petipa." It was, one fears, very much after .

The corps maneuvers lent new meaning to such concepts as incoherence and sloppiness. The choreography, a bizarre fusion of Act III and assorted earlier divertissements, surrendered dramatic impulses to an abstract vacuum. Glazunov's score was mangled by an American orchestra under Michel Queval.

Nureyev, 48, showed up for a muted semblance of the grand pas classique. The New Yorkers, paragons of myopia and/or nostalgia, roared their approval. "A legend in his own mind," muttered the sophisticate behind me.

Some of the fleeting French principals arrested the eye--the delicate Elisabeth Platel, the dashing Charles Jude, the elegant Florence Clerc, the exquisite Sylvie Guillem. Serious evaluation of the French company, however, will have to await the "Swan Lake" opening Wednesday night.

Leslie Caron popped in for a tiny medley of her greatest Hollywood hits. Escorted-- partnered would be an exaggeration--by Nureyev and Baryshnikov in top hat and tails, she executed a few kicks, mustered a jazzy mini-waltz and allowed the devout to savor a couple of still-great legs.

The inevitably vulgar "Corsaire" pyrotechnics brought down the house on schedule as executed by the flamboyantly muscular Patrick Dupond and the willowy Guillem.

Gene Kelly ambled on to introduce a gravelly voiced chanteuse simply called Barbara. The house program, in a flight of apparent whimsy, listed this as her Metropolitan Opera debut.

Seated at the keyboard, Barbara gargled some agitated, arhythmic ditties about la vie and l'amour into a crackling microphone. Meanwhile, a bare-chested Baryshnikov struck soulful interpretive poses. Then the odd couple ran off upstage, only to return for gushing kissy-face curtain calls.

Bob Bowyer of American Ballet Comedy contributed "Piece d'Occasion," a fatuous little ballet-competition spoof in which the American team did star-spangled routines to Gershwin while their French rivals reveled in classical pizazz to Offenbach. The chief attraction here turned out to be Martine van Hamel as a virtuosic dumb-blonde baton-twirler in a tutu.

For non-comic relief, Cynthia Harvey and Laurent Hilaire (feet across the sea!) surveyed the suave, anticlimactic contortions of a duet from Serge Lifar's "Suite en Blanc."

For the grand finale, there was something faintly bright and breezy: a scrambled version of Twyla Tharp's "Push Comes to Shove" with five--count 'em, five--heroes.

Danilo Radojevic and Gil Boggs tried to play the crooked game straight, in mirror images. Baryshnikov flew in and out of the action, pretending to look bemused. Tharp bumped knowingly into the protagonistic tangle, in identical Santo Loquasto drag. Finally, an amiably befuddled Nureyev stumbled into the act.

The hoped-for piece de resistance thus turned out to be a harmless, multilayered in-joke. The curtain came down, of course, on a mad flurry of flying derbies.

For at least one observer, the most interesting event of the evening took place in the audience, not on the stage. When Gene Kelly pointed to the center box and introduced "our beautiful First Lady," an iconoclastic gentleman in an aisle seat responded with a loud and lusty salvo of boos.

The lady behind him beat him on the head with her program.

A good time was had by some.

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